There is a brand new term that is making its debut in the headlines to describe the church as it moves out of the quarantine and back into the communities where we use to assemble for congregational worship and mutual spiritual edification. The term is, “The Post-Pandemic Church”.
After sheltering in place for several months, there have been many discussions and articles written to address how the church will forever be impacted by the pandemic. While many have pointed out how the pandemic will have a negative impact on the church, I want to challenge this notion and suggest several healthy ways for the church to emerge from the pandemic.
Do a Google search and you will see how many links populate along the lines of the post-pandemic church. Much of what you will read there will talk about how we need to rethink church as we know it. I was a bit concerned by the notion that after a two-month hiatus, we somehow need to revamp or recreate the church. We have biblical precedent for our actions as local churches and it is not time to do away with the traditions of the apostles taught to the first-century church as revealed in the New Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the idea of reviewing the New Testament regularly to make sure that we are patterned after the early church, following Jesus and in step with the Holy Spirit. The problem posed by many authors right now is that the church will suffer from the recession and many congregations will even close their doors due to financial struggles, poor attendance and people feeling that the quarantine proved that we can somehow use a different model for our worship, work and way of living as Christians. I beg to differ, as long as we operate as the New Testament has instructed us to behave ourselves in the household of God, we are on the brink of a breakthrough in our local churches. I am not sure what motive produced many of the negative thoughts online, but it is not godly to suggest that a virus could stunt the growth of the church, when persecution, trials, death, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against her (Matthew 16:17-19). On the contrary, in times of hardship the church thrives and multiplies.
Personally, I have been more of an active part of our worship, work, and way of living since the pandemic than ever before. The church is not harmed by the time away, but the absence, as the old saying goes, has made the heart grow fonder. Disciples of Jesus have always used adversity to expand the church. In Acts 8:4 the church was scattered by persecution and they went everywhere preaching the word and people were paying attention to it. One of the most encouraging trends that I have noticed during the quarantine is all of the video and audio recordings of biblical truth that is being circulated and listened to by people that have never set foot in our meeting places. These efforts need to continue even after we have the ability to return to assembling because they afford so many the opportunity to hear the truth of God’s word. I believe the church is not in a doom and gloom situation like many authors are predicting. Yes, it is true that many members of our churches have lost jobs or are temporarily laid off, so finances will be tight. The early church showed us how we can sell possessions and goods and care for our own in a shortage. People for the first time in a long time, realized that we are not invincible as Americans and our lives are fragile. Many deaths have occurred as a result of the COVID-19 virus and people feared for their physical well-being which caused many to ponder their spiritual condition as well. There is no need to go to any extremes or panic as the church of our Lord. We just need to get back in the New Testament and reexamine the truths it holds and get busy as a church applying the principles on a daily basis.
What we have learned is that many of our churches were going through the motions and now we are recognizing that every time we have the blessed opportunity to meet together and edify one another while worshiping the Lord, that we can no longer take it for granted. The pandemic has interrupted the rhythm of the church but not her heart. The virus never canceled church or made it obsolete, it simply dispersed us into smaller groups, in community-wide fellowship in our homes and for a period of time we used technology to keep in touch and continue to study the Bible, worship the Lord and serve one another where we were able. We prayed for one another, remained informed of needs and met them, and continued to grow in our faith in spite of the isolation. What should our attitude be as we emerge as the “post-pandemic church”? These are some ideas that I wanted to share with you from a biblical perspective.
Meeting and Greeting
One of the first areas in our lives affected by the recent pandemic following the abrupt halt that came to our regular congregational assemblies was our ability to meet and greet. The Bible regularly mentions Christian assemblies (Acts 20:7; James 2:2; I Corinthians 5:4; 11:17-20; 14:23). There are countless passages that speak of the importance of greeting one another. For example, Paul told the Christians in Philippians 4:21, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus…”.
It appears that we took for granted the time that we would wake up with our families, ready ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually for coming together with those who share our faith to give hugs, handshakes, and show our love for one another. Paul said to the early church in Romans 1:9-11, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the [preaching of the] gospel of His Son, is my witness [as to] how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making a request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you [while] among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.” There is something special about simply being able to welcome one another in the Lord that we need to learn to hold dear. Being together is a blessing all by itself.
There are many passages that speak of the joy that Christians found in the presence of other believers when they were able to give updates on the growth of the church, discuss urgent needs and find ways to meet them while being present to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those that rejoice (Romans 12:15). These opportunities are limited by the physical social distancing that we have been asked to maintain. The early church waited for one another. They anticipated being together. They treasured every moment. The early church would mourn their separations from one another, never knowing if it was the last time they would have spiritual fellowship with each other this side of heaven. Would we have acted differently toward individual members of our local churches if we knew that it would be the last time we would see one another for several months? What kind or encouraging word would you have said to a sister mourning the loss of a loved one? What would you have emphasized in teaching the youth in Bible class? Is there someone that could have benefited from an extra minute of your time so that they could pour their heart out and ease a burden? In Acts 20, we often focus on verse 7, where the disciples waited for one another and came together, but I want us to see verses 36-38, where Paul was getting ready to leave, “he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they [began] to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” You can feel the importance of their fellowship and the meaningfulness of their assembly. They didn’t want it to end. We learn in Acts 2 that the Christians were together daily from house to house and made it a regular practice to assemble as a whole. The Bible says that we can reap great benefits from making the decision to assemble and these opportunities were too good to be missed. We read in Hebrews 10:19-25, “Therefore, brethren, since we have the confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since [we have] a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [clean] from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We must learn to value the process of meeting together as a congregation and make it a point to take some time to extend a warm greeting, cherish the fellowship, and always offer a blessed farewell in every assembly. Once this pandemic subsides, I want to suggest that churches meet and greet. While it is the responsibility of every Christian to greet one another, there is nothing wrong with putting greeters at every door, to make sure that there is someone standing by to at least say a welcoming word and to send off each member with a farewell. These men should be included in the list of those serving each week.
Praying and Praising
I have missed the voices of fellow believers during this period of isolation. What do I mean? Well our voice is an integral part of our assemblies for worship and mutual edification. We raise our voices in public prayers and in heartfelt praise to God.
One of the primary focuses of the church is our direct communication with God in prayer. Several times during our assemblies we hear men get up to lead our minds in a petition to the throne of God. I miss being able to gather and unite over the sick, the hurting, those that lost loved ones, our members who are shut-in, and give thanks for all of our blessings from God’s hand. Some of you may suggest that we have continued to pray so there is no difference. You are right that our prayer life has continued and for many of us even increased. The difference is that when we come together as a spiritual house to offer spiritual sacrifices to God our congregational prayers are united by a sincere “Amen!” We learn from the word of God that our petitions rise to His throne. We know that prayers of the righteous accomplish much. Wouldn’t it make sense then that the most powerful prayer time is when we unite and pray together? I get the image of Revelation 8:4, where we read, “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God…” Our prayers are heard by God and His ears are open to His people to provide answers. The next time we gather with one mind and heart and a dear brother in Christ steps up to the microphone and says, “Let us pray together”, make that a meaningful time of supplication and sincere thanksgiving to God. Don’t be hesitant to agree with your brother in saying, “Amen”.
Likewise, we come together to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to praise God as we teach and admonish one another (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We use our voices to edify one another while giving thanks and praise to God in our hearts. Even though we continued to sing in our smaller gatherings in quarantine, there is nothing like the collective sound of all of the saints singing in harmony and blending our voices. It is a foretaste of heaven to come. We see the angels, elders, and four living creatures falling down and shouting praise to the Lord who sits on the throne in heaven (Revelation 4-5). We get to practice for that scene each week in our assemblies for congregational worship. The lyrics in the songbooks are a lesson in themselves as we share spiritual insights that will carry us throughout each week. I hope we will always remember the blessing of joining our voices in song and never be found timid about offering this worship to God. He is worthy of our praise!
Feasting and Communing
Breaking bread with the saints is such a blessing to our spiritual fellowship. We break bread in more than one way when we assemble for worship. We study the Bible in our classes, listen to the word of God preached and we partake of the Lord’s Supper, all of which are forms of feasting and communing together. While most of us continued to break bread in our small group meetings, there is certainly something to be said about surrounding the table with the whole church.
When we can sit in a class before a teacher and ask questions and offer a response to challenge and encourage one another in the faith, it is invaluable to our growth process. While we all continued to read and pursue knowledge from God’s word, there is something special about coming together to have a meeting of the spiritual minds while asking God to guide us into a greater understanding of His will for our lives.
When a preacher of the word invests time throughout the week to do a dedicated study of the word of God to prepare to share with the church, it is a blessing to sit at his feet and allow him to pour out his heart. While a recorded sermon can be effective, I love to be present in the assembly to hear the pages of the Bible flipping, along with a periodic, “Amen!” and to see and feel the passion of his presentation. As one who recorded several messages during the pandemic in the privacy of my studio, I can tell you that not seeing any facial expressions, nodding heads, and emotional responses made it challenging to connect. As we begin to reassemble, we need to hold dear the gift of being able to sit together and feast upon the word of God. We need to remember that in the truth we are sanctified (John 17:17). We are made pure by the washing of water with the word. Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up into Christ. Growth only happens when we are willing to feast upon the word of God regularly. Show gratitude to those that devote themselves to the proclamation of the word of God.
A third way that we feast is in communing in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. We eat unleavened bread and drink the fruit of the vine each week in order to proclaim the Lord’s death (I Corinthians 11:23f). We center our minds as one body to partake of the symbols representing the body and blood of Jesus. Instead of letting this become a ritualistic practice, let us focus on the fact that we have joined other blood-bought saints in this Supper that declares our forgiveness of sins and future hope of heaven. Jesus asked us to remember Him (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul taught that this feast is primary to our gathering and is central to our worship and building up of one another (Acts 20:7). Fellowship by definition is a sharing in spiritual things. In partaking together, we are coming to share the Lord. When we meet, while there will be time for personal reflection, remember that you are surrounded by a spiritual family that is traveling back in their minds to the scene of the cross with you. We are surrounding the table as one body (I Corinthians 10:17).
Giving and Gifting
The subject of giving is always hard to cover because it requires some kind of sacrifice from us. The fact is that it is more blessed to give than to receive, said our Lord (Acts 20:35). As soon as the subject of giving comes up, the first thought that enters our mind is giving money to the Lord for the work of the church when the church assembles.
The first thing that must be given is our own lives to the service of the Lord. In order to give with the right heart, we must first be devoted to the Lord and to His church by the will of God (II Corinthians 8:5). This prepares our motives to give willingly not only in our weekly gatherings but in any other area of our walk with the Lord.
Giving goes beyond the local church and its weekly collection. We are told as individual Christians to do good unto all men, especially those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). You not only have to be a good steward by giving back to the collection for the saints, but you must be a good manager of your personal funds so that you can distribute to others when needs arise as a part of your personal service to the Lord. We work with our hands daily to provide for those that cross our path that might have needs.
We are authorized as a church to collect funds on the first day of the week for the work of the church. Without your offering the work could not continue as effectively as it should. But we do not give out of obligation. We give from a cheerful heart and as we tally the collection, we can then evaluate what work can be accomplished among us. While I believe that our giving as a church was handled well through the pandemic, I believe now more than ever, the members of the church need to do an evaluation to see if the giving that we have been offering is all that we can do. Perhaps we have been settling and not offering a true token that represents how good God has been to us. He opens the storehouses of heaven for us daily. When we give the way that we should, we are told that it will be given to us in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over into our laps.
God doesn’t want leftovers. He gave us the very best and that is what He desires from us. Let us come out of this pandemic as a giving group of Christians that although the economy has been rattled by the pandemic, we can prove to be a people that give until it hurts, in order to see the borders of the kingdom expand and the love of the Lord spread abroad.
The church is authorized to do three works congregationally and these include evangelism, benevolence, and edification. We want to examine these works for a brief moment in hopes to revive our diligence in these areas following the pandemic.
Service through Evangelism
Spreading the good news about Jesus Christ has always been the great commission of the church. We are disciple-making disciples. Before Jesus left the earth to ascend into heaven, He commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20). If we are honest, in recent years we lost hope that people were interested in the gospel. Our churches maintained an open-door policy to encourage neighbors and friends to assemble with us in our regular assemblies. The model that we see in the New Testament is Christians taking the word of God to the streets. The early church met people where they were and shared Jesus with them. The pandemic has forced many to think about the fragility of life and in the process, the salvation of their souls. If there was ever a time to become more active in the work of evangelism, we have open doors in our communities that are wider than ever before. Use this time wisely and make the most of it to share the good news about our Lord.
Blessing through Benevolence
We have already covered our giving as members of the church. We take up weekly collections and yet we should also use our personal means to go about doing good deeds unto others. While many churches do a great job giving and the weekly contribution of the church is healthy, we often lose sight of why that money is collected. The original command in I Corinthians 16:1-2, describes this offering that is to be taken “for the saints”. There will certainly be members of the church that will be setback by the pandemic and they will need our help. While some of us continued to work and prosper during the two-month recession, many went without financially and even lost jobs. Allow me to put it this way. When Paul gave the command for us to build a treasury of our weekly collections, his plan was to pass through at some point and take those funds with him to needy saints elsewhere. This money would not be maintained for years in a bank somewhere. It was collected to be distributed for authorized work in the kingdom. While we may not be required at this time to pool funds to send to other places for a famine or other crisis among brethren, how are we doing with taking care of our own needy saints? Congregations need to take this to heart and find out how we can be of service to our brothers and sisters in Christ through our work of benevolence. After all, we are stewards of these funds and we will give an account for how we managed the collection “for the saints”.
Equipping through Edification
One of the goals of our services as a church is to help equip the saints for the work of ministry. We are training, encouraging, and readying each member for the work that they will do in serving throughout the week. By means of our Bible classes, preaching, teaching, and even gospel meetings, we have attempted over the years to prepare our members to serve. When we were made to forego these opportunities during the pandemic and we postponed our regular assemblies, each individual family or Christian was now responsible for their own spiritual growth. It forced us to pause and reflect upon the gift of building one another up and how we missed being invested in a good class and digging deeper into the word of God as a whole church. I hope that we have been stimulated during the pandemic to devotion and learning. Equally important, I pray that we comprehend the invaluable blessing that we have to come together and share our faith with each other in being equipped for the work of service.
OUR WAY OF LIVING
The last area that we must cover is the way that we conduct ourselves as the people of God, not as a church, but in our daily walk of faith. Let us look at the following:
We need to pray for stronger marriages and families. Many found that they had more time to spend at home during this pandemic. Board games were dusted off and everyone actually ate meals together again at the dining room table. How did we use that time spiritually? How will we use the time that we get at home to bless our families following the pandemic? It was an eye-opener for many men when they had to step up and lead their families in prayer, devotion, and worship, otherwise, the family would have felt the absence of these spiritual blessings from their lives. The hope coming out of isolation and back into our assemblies is that we will bring a stronger unit back to our churches than when we first went into quarantine. Unfortunately, the fear is that many neglected their personal faith and also the spiritual well being of their families and used the time away as a vacation from Christianity and the church. I hope this was not the case for your family. We are at a crossroads for the home. Our churches will only be as strong as the collective unit of families that make up our membership. Let us uphold our duties to build good homes and allow God to be glorified through us. Model before the community the type of people that God expects us to be as husbands, wives, children, etc.
Nobody expected to lose jobs over this influenza this year. Never in our history did we ever anticipate being kept at home and told that we could not maintain our line of work because of a virus. While many of us are back to work, can I suggest that we examine our work ethic and remind ourselves that we don’t do our job to be seen by men? Whatever our hands find to do, we do it will all our might and unto the Lord as though we are serving Him. We credit God for our ability to work and for providing us with our jobs. Why not spend the time at work bringing Him glory through a diligent work ethic and in being a godly example.
Who is my neighbor? The short answer is everyone is your neighbor. We must be kind and good to everyone that we meet. While we have our direct neighbors living next door, our circle of influence is much bigger. Smile and be courteous to others. It saddened me to see the way that people went about treating others during the shortage of important items in the stores. The demeanor of the mood changes when our normal routine is interrupted. As children of God let us set the pace for those around us and be in good spirits, because we know that God is still on His throne. We need to be willing to extend ourselves to help our neighbors to find solace and normalcy as we demonstrate our faith through good works following the pandemic.
Public education was interrupted by this pandemic with the closing of school systems. Students were forced to study at home and apply themselves to complete their course work. To be well educated spiritually is of greater importance. When the buildings of our congregational assemblies closed temporarily, what kind of biblical education did we pursue at home while we were away from our Bible classes and periods of study during worship? While we need to be wise in this life, knowing the will of the Lord must be a top priority. We will need to be like the noble-minded that search the Scriptures daily and be ready always to give an answer for the reason for the hope that is in us.
As we mentioned earlier, the money will be tight and as the economy around us seeks to recover we will also need to be frugal with our spending and remain financially stable. These are not times for us to be irresponsible with our wealth and make unwise decisions with purchases. We need to use what has been entrusted to us to God’s glory and keep ourselves above reproach financially by keeping a budget. Count the cost, make wise investments, serve others, share blessings, and continue to be a good giver to the work of the Lord!
This period of isolation has given us all time to reflect on the type of person that we are. We have looked back to who we were and now we get to make a choice about who we want to be in the future. My hope is that the pandemic doesn’t make us selfish but selfless. It would be wonderful if following this worldwide crisis, that we can become a better version of ourselves. Each of us can make a big difference in the world. What role will you take on in the days ahead as we emerge as the post-pandemic church?